How long did Paul stay in prison counting all his time there? Why was he thrown into prison? What was his crime?
Saul to Paul
For anyone that thinks someone’s beyond being saved, there is no better example of Saul’s conversion and becoming a Paul. Paul writes “though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1st Tim 1:13). Before Saul was saved he “began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3). At one time, Paul “too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9) “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1st Tim 1:16). The point is that no one is beyond the grace of God and since he can change and direct the heart of a pagan king (Prov 21:1), there is no one that cannot be saved.
The Apostle Paul
The Apostle Paul was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles and although he did witness to the Jews, his primary mission was to reach the Gentiles. Many people might complain or grieve being thrown into prison and more so if they were thrown into prison unjustly but that was Paul’s case. Over and over again Paul was falsely accused and then thrown into prison and accused of things he never did but God has a history of using evil for good (Gen 50:20) and Paul knew “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Think about this; if Paul had not been imprisoned, we would not possibly have the prison epistles like Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Paul used the time that he was in prison to write four powerful epistles of the New Testament and so God used this evil experience for Paul to write down four God-breathed letters destined to become part of the New Testament. For Paul, it was a huge inconvenience but for God, it was a huge opportunity for Him to use Paul in adding to the New Testament.
Paul’s Prison Experiences
According to biblical sources and biblical scholarship, Paul was likely in prison from between five and six years’ total. He was probably imprisoned in Rome at least two years around AD 60-62. His other two-year stay was in Caesarea and counting his additional Book of Act’s experiences, we think Paul’s total time in prison was possibly as long as six years but this gave him the opportunity to speak before his accusers, to the Roman guards, to the prisoners, and as any opportunity afforded him (Acts 28:16), being permitted to receive visitors (Acts 28:30), and having opportunities to share the gospel (Acts 28:31) with anyone he had contact with. The authorities and the Jewish leaders meant it for evil but God used Paul’s time in prison for good.
Today it seems that when we suffer even in the slightest, we are focusing on that and if we are suffering unjustly, we want to complain to anyone that will listen, but Jesus suffered being completely innocent but Paul did too. Of course no one suffered to the extent that Christ did (Isaiah 53) but Paul suffered very much too and for nothing he ever did except being a faithful witness for Christ. Paul reveals just how much he suffered, writing that he endured “far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2nd Cor 11:23-27). Did Paul start complaining to everyone about his mistreatment? No, he wrote “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known” (Col 1:24-25).
Paul poured out his life for Jesus Christ. He suffered all kinds of beatings, tortures, imprisonment, stripes, stoning’s, hunger, cold, and dangers from just about every place imaginable yet he saw it as a privilege to suffer for Christ’s name’s sake. He was not going to be dissuaded from proclaiming Jesus Christ as the only hope to a dead and dying world. He never backed off in his mission to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles and even to the Jews. He never cared about ending up in prison for He knew God was sovereign over all things and he had committed his life to Christ and was willing to endure any suffering for the cause of Christ, even if it meant death, which it ultimately did.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.